Previews for the new season of American Idol showed one contestant whose voice was so good they made judge Luke Bryan cry, and the audition in question aired during the show's season premiere on Sunday night. Contestant Grace Kinstler was the last audition of the day, and she shared with the judges that her father had died in February 2020 and she was singing with him in mind.
"I used to watch American Idol with my dad a lot, and my mom," the 20-year-old recalled in an interview. "I always imagined if I go, he would be there, but last February, I was at school and my brother called me at 7 in the morning and was like, ‘You should look for flights home. They just took dad to the hospital and he’s not breathing.’ It was very unexpected."
Kinstler began her audition by performing "Midnight Train to Georgia" before Bryan asked her to perform a second song. Kinstler chose Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman," receiving some advice from judge Katy Perry before she sang.
"The legend that is Carole King wrote it, the legend that is Aretha Franklin sang it, you need to sing it like the legend you want to be," Perry said. "Tall order. Don’t phone it in; make me feel it. Sing ‘Natural Woman’ to me like I never heard it before." Kinstler's rendition fit the bill, with all three judges praising her talent.
"That’s got to be right up there with the Kelly Clarkson audition, the Jennifer Hudson audition," the country star gushed. "I get brought to tears by stories and backgrounds of people and their struggles, but this is the first time in four years that someone just singing made me cry. Just understand that your dad is very, very proud of you right now. What a lot to be proud of."
Perry added, "There’s not a whole lot of critiquing I need to do. I got a wave of full-body chills twice. That’s music. That’s true magic." Judge Lionel Richie confirmed, "You actually have control of that amazing instrument." All three judges unanimously voted to send Kinstler through to the Hollywood round, and Bryan helped her share the good news with her family, who were on a video call.
"Everybody here, we are so sorry for what your family has dealt with and the loss of your husband," he said. "You're in our prayers. And listen, this is my fourth year of doing this and it's the first time someone has made me cry while they were singing. Y'all see your girl? We feel like she's up there with some of the biggest voices in the history of Idol, and we're so excited to have her in the family."